Three top Harvard administrators struck discordant tones Sunday night while reflecting on the controversial freshman values pledge during an Undergraduate Council forum.
All three—the University President, the Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, and the Dean of the College—celebrated the dialogue that followed the College’s decision to institute a values pledge accompanied by publicly displayed signatures.
During Sunday’s meeting, University President Drew G. Faust supported the College actively encouraging conversations on Harvard’s values—a position echoed by Dean of the College Evelynn M. Hammonds. But FAS Dean Michael D. Smith, bristling a little at the question, spoke more cautiously about the value the pledge brings to the Harvard community.
“The pledge itself is not going to work very well except as a vehicle to have these conversations,” Smith said.
Without criticizing the pledge, Faust spoke positively about the “vibrant discussion” of values that resulted from the controversy.
“The reason we have a residential house system is because an education at Harvard is about your whole lives,” Faust said. “Whatever form it takes, the kind of conversation that has gone on about values this fall has been very important.”
The discussion of the pledge came during the open question and answer session of the meeting in response to a UC representative’s request for the administrators to give their opinion on the incident.
The pledge, which the Freshman Dean’s Office inaugurated this fall, provided each freshmen entryway with a statement asking students to commit to “upholding the values of the College and to making the entryway and Yard a place where all can thrive and where the exercise of kindness holds a place on par with intellectual attainment.” Proctors asked students to sign the pledge during the annual Convocation Ceremony, and the signed document was to be displayed in freshman entryways.
Former Dean of the College Harry R. Lewis ’68 denounced the pledge on his blog and called it “very unlike Harvard” during an interview with The Crimson.
Lewis expressed concerns that the public signing and public display of names on the pledge placed unfair pressure on students to add their name to a document that they otherwise might not sign.
The College later reversed its decision to include the signatures with the text. The content of the pledge, without signatures, is currently on display in all freshman entryways.
College administrators have said that they plan to pursue some statement of the College’s values in future years, although whether that will take the form of a values pledge has yet to be determined.
“The kind of conversations we’ve had this fall have been really important and really good,” Hammonds said during Sunday’s forum.
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